Winning is not everything, but winning is important.
"Learning to win starts off the court, with learning
to learn," Coach Nick Bollettieri told Tennis magazine
as he began coaching the professional from Chile,
Winning not only requires giving your all during the
match, more importantly, it means giving maximum
effort preparing for the match. Start by becoming
aware of your current strengths and weaknesses. Shut
out unnecessary objectives and practice focusing on a
few critical ones: overcoming a weak stroke, improving
a specific strategy, and achieving peak physical
condition in time for the competition.
Raising the Bar
At age 11, Tenille Elias had thrashed all comers and
was ranked No. 1 among girls 16 and under on the
family's native island of Trinidad. She was running
out of serious opponents there, so her dad entered
Tenille in a tournament in Mexico.
Father and daughter were in for a shock. In a field of
girls from the host country and around the Caribbean,
Tenille hardly shined. In fact, she was dispatched in
the second round. Hoping to raise the level of her
game by seeking stiffer competition, Dad moved Tenille
to a tennis academy in Florida.
When the probability of winning is very high, a
player's record may seem impressive but the
accomplishment is clearly devalued. Tennis development
is sacrificed at the altar of easy wins. Often a kid
loses motivation to improve and sometimes even to
Experts suggest a 2-to-1 win-loss record is about
right to keep a kid motivated to play and, at the same
time, continue to improve. When a kid is consistently
winning two matches for every loss, it's time to raise
the bar. Consider entering a few tournaments in a
higher age group; practice and play with grown ups;
or, if possible, move to a state or region where
competition is more intense.
Becoming Assertive on Court
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines assertion as
"the act to state or declare positively and often
forcefully or aggressively." A player might be the
nicest person in the world off-court and display
excellent sportsmanship on court. To win matches,
though, the player has to show assertiveness in his or her
game. Being too careful or making tentative shots in a
match may indicate the need for a talk with the coach
about a more aggressive game.
There are many programs available at local community
centers that offer assertiveness training for kids.
Practicing martial arts is a great way to develop
assertiveness. If little Johnny does not improve his
tennis as a result, at least he will succeed in
gaining new respect from the school bully.
Broadening the Definition of Winning
By definition, there is only one winner in a tennis
tournament--the winning finalist. If competition is
to be beneficial to kids, they have to be taught to
broaden their definition of winning and success.
A kid who practices his or her down-the-line passing shot and
uses it effectively to win a third-round match is a
success. A junior who reaches the semi-finals for the
first time is a winner. That's not to say the junior
should stop striving. In fact, he or she should enter the
competition preparing to win the tournament. However,
if the junior loses in the final round, after winning
the first three rounds of a 16-player draw, he or she is a
winner three times over and must be encouraged to
"Children should be encouraged to compete against
their own potential," says Dr Alan Goldberg, a
renowned sports psychologist. "Boys should focus on
beating Mr. Peter Potential, competing against
themselves, while the girls challenge Ms. Patty
Winners are also those who handle failure better.
There is a widespread belief that great players were
successful throughout their careers. Actually,
champions probably just coped with their setbacks and
losses better than their opponents did. Andre Agassi
fell from single to triple digits in the rankings
between 1996 and 1997 while he put on weight and dealt
with personal problems.
Then his coach, Brad Gilbert, initiated the well-known
reclamation project. Gilbert convinced Agassi to work
his way back into form--mentally and physically--by
entering a few Challenger tournaments, which are
professional tennis' minor leagues. The story of how
Agassi, the once-showy superstar, had to get his own
towels and flip his own scoreboard without complaining
is now the stuff of legend. It is also folklore how
Agassi has since regained his top ranking, winning
many more Grand Slams and professional titles.